So I walked Home from the Airport

A diversion to Durango (KDRO) for weather. Borrowing a crew car, and then sneaking out ahead of a snow storm. After almost 700 miles of flying, I was walking home. …
Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
21 Mar 2024

Almost 700 miles of flying later and I was walking home.

Fullerton (KFUL) to Pagosa Springs (KPSO)

The flight from Fullerton (KFUL) to Pagosa Springs (KPSO) is right on the edge of my range. Depending on the route of flight it is about 660 miles and without winds is right at 4 hours of flying. Everyone knows there is never zero wind, and every pilot knows there seems to always be a headwind.

So, out of the 12 times I have flown there and back, only three of them have been made without a fuel stop. It looked like this would be number four, but apparently that was not to be.

Our last ski trip of the season was coming up and I had been watching the weather like a hawk. I hoped that I wouldn’t be driving because of winter storms like on our March ski trip last year. 

As the trip got closer it looked like we could fly in ahead of a storm on Wednesday, ski powder Thursday through Saturday, and then the storm would conveniently lift Sunday for a flight home. It was almost too good to be true.

Tuesday evening before departure I checked the weather again and the forecast was holding. We would need to arrive sometime after noon but that still gave plenty of time to pick up our car at the mechanics and drive to Durango to pick up my oldest son who was flying in commercial.

Wednesday morning I got up a little later than my usual 4:40am alarm, and only put in 30 minutes on the bike instead of 60 minutes. Then I got ready and logged in for a weather briefing. I was pleasantly surprised that not only would we still have tailwinds, but the arrival window had increased, I wasn’t worried about timing it for visibility issues.

Arriving at the airport I called the fuel truck right as they opened up. By the time I had the plane out of the hangar they were pulling around the corner.

We climbed out to 9,500′ with a stiff 33 mph crosswind coming from the left side. A heading of 61° had us on a ground track of  75°, that’s a 14° crab! Once we were east of Palm Springs it shifted to a quartering tailwind and we started to see some higher ground speeds.

East of Lake Havasu crossing the Aquarius Mountains we picked our way thorough some scattered buildups and with clear air ahead I decided to climb to 11,500′ to see if we could pick up a little more tailwind. 

The winds were slightly better, but within about 10 minutes of arriving at 11,500′ I could see that we weren’t going to be able to stay there very long. Up ahead the clouds that were supposed to still be south of our track had moved up their timetable and 11,500′ would put us right into the middle of them.

I began a gradual descent to put us under the layer and we found ourselves turning left and right of our track to go around the snow showers. Visibility was great and it was easy to stay out of them.

Diversion to Durango (KDRO)

After crossing the Chinle Valley we descended a little more as the cloud layer lowered and worked our way around the scattered layer. We weren’t close enough to pick up the weather at Pagosa Springs on the radio but the FIS-B weather on my tablet looked promising but I was beginning to be skeptical with what I could see out the windscreen.

Both Farmington and Durango looked like good alternates if needed as we passed them, and up ahead the clouds kept getting lower and lower. Even though the weather at Pagosa was VFR, it didn’t seem we could get to that.

Picking up a pop-up IFR wasn’t an option. The temperatures and altitude we would have to climb to would have put us solidly into the clouds and icing. Maybe we could have gone even lower and tried staying under them up the canyon, but that is a recipe for a bad ending.

For the second time in three months I turned around and pointed the plane towards Durango. The forecast was supposed to improve in the next couple hours so I was hopeful we could still fly into Pagosa.

They chocked the plane and I asked them to top off both sides. Inside the FBO they asked if we wanted to borrow a crew car to get something to eat. I took a look at the weather on my phone, the weather out the window, and decided it was going to be a bit so we took them up on their offer.

Sometimes “Doing the right thing” doesn’t change anything, and other times it does. Regardless, always try to “Do the right thing.”

When we returned I gave the keys to the car back and took out my credit card to pay for the AvGas.

“Looks like 26.8 gallons,” the lady at the desk said.

“That can’t be right, it should have been 38-40,” I replied.

“No, they said 26.8,” said responded looking at the log sheet.

“Not if they topped both sides. The left should have taken almost 26 and the right 12-14,” was my answer.

She called up the lady that was working the line and we walked out to the plane to see if they had topped both tanks. Sure enough, they were filled to the top.

“Let me go check the math on his entry,” she said as we walked back.

A few minutes later they confirmed it had taken just over 38 gallons and I paid the bill as they thanked me. We were coming close to decision time. 

I didn’t want to spend the money for multiple days rental if we missed picking up our car before the mechanic closed. I decided we could rent a car to drive the 112 mile round trip to Pagosa. We would grab our car, come back and drop off the rental when we picked up my son.

I asked the lady at the counter, “Could we borrow the crew car one more time to go pick up a rental so we can get to Pagosa?”

The rental car counter was over at the main terminal.

“Just go ahead and take our car to Pagosa,” she said.

“Are you sure? That’s a long way, we won’t be back for a couple hours,” I said.

“Yes, go ahead and take it.”

“Thank you! we’ll fill the tank before we bring it back.”

“Don’t worry about it,” was her reply.

I wondered as we drove away if my correcting the fueling amount played into her offer. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, I’ll never know.

We got our car, stopped by our house, and then started the drive back to Durango, me in our car and my wife in the crew car. The skies were looking better, still scattered and broken but high enough to get the plane over to Pagosa.

I thought that after picking up my son he could fly back with me, that is until we came through the last part of the pass into Bayfield east of Durango. To the south there was another snow shower moving across the valley. We stopped and filled both cars and continued to the airport as I watched the snow coming our way.

I stopped at the cell phone lot and flagged down my wife as she was heading to the FBO. She pulled up and rolled down the window.

“I was going to have Austin fly back with me, but I think my only chance to get the plane to Pagosa is to leave now and get around that snow.”

She said, “I was thinking the same thing.”

After swapping cars I took the crew car back and thanked them for their generosity. I watched the American Airlines Embrear ERJ 175 land and taxi past as I finished up pre-flight. I climbed in and started up, then taxied past it as passengers were still getting off the plane. 

As soon as the engine was warm enough I performed the run-up, went through all the pre-takeoff checks, and texted my wife, “Sorry I had to leave.”

Racing the snow from Durango (KDRO) to Pagosa (KPSO)

I lifted off on runway 21 and made an early left turnout heading to the north east and the clear sky between the snow storm and the mountains. There was the option of going over the layer of clouds, but I wasn’t sure if I could get back down to Pagosa so I stayed under them following the lower  terrain of the valley.

A short 17 minutes later I was on the ground in Pagosa (KPSO) and tying the plane down. The FBO had already closed which left me at the airport with no transportation.

Unlike some FBO’s there isn’t a code to get inside after hours so I had two choices to make. I could sit in the plane in the cold and wait for my wife to get there, or start the 2 mile walk to our house. Zipping up my coat, putting on a beanie and my winter gloves, I slung my backpack on and headed for the airport gate.

As I started the walk I called my wife. She answered and said they were still 40 minutes away.

“I’m just going to walk,” I said.


“Yep, I have good gloves, and figure I might as well walk and stay warm as sit around and freeze.”

I could hear my son laughing in the background.

And that is how I found myself walking home from the airport. According to my watch, 28 minutes and 1.86 miles later I was home.

The skiing was great! We had powder days on Thursday and Friday. We even hiked the knife ridge and rode the snowcat over to Horseshoe Bowl on Friday where we had knee-deep powder. It was amazing.

Wolf Creek Skiing

Subscribe to newsletter

Stay informed and inspired! Sign up for my monthly newsletter to receive my latest posts, stories, and exclusive updates straight to your inbox. (I will never share or sell your information)

 And get free stickers!

Similar posts

More from Long Cross Country

Enjoyed the read? See more similar posts that you’ll also love.

Some Lady Named Marie Osmond and 60+mph Headwinds

Some Lady Named Marie Osmond My youngest son is a student at Utah Tech University in St. George, UT. A gifted musician, he is there...

Richard Brown

31 Mar 2024

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay informed and inspired! Sign up for my monthly newsletter to receive my latest posts, stories, and exclusive updates straight to your inbox. (I will never share or sell your information)

 And get free stickers!